First of all, I had no idea what I was doing and I had a difficult class- I taught a 5/6 split in the Gifted Program. The students knew that I was a total newbie, they were pretty oppositional, and the parents hovered like ravenous vultures around a zebra carcass.
One time a student’s father (who happened to be an unemployed lawyer) stopped by the classroom UNANNOUNCED, looked at me when I was standing by the overhead projector, and asked, “Are you teaching right now?”
I wanted to say,”No. I’m tending bar, mister.”
Even the librarian quipped,”Once in your career you will have the class from hell. You’re having yours now, so it’s good you’re getting it over with.”
I found an essay I wrote back then reflecting on the student teaching experience. Here goes:
One rainy morning mid-February when I was getting morning assignments ready for my students, my mentor teacher informed me that I was coming across as “insincere” to some of the staff and that they thought I was trying to “kiss their a##” (or perhaps it was one lone grumpy teacher who perceived me this way). I was baffled and hurt by the comment, as I don’t think of myself as insincere. She might as well have told me that I was more suited for a career in used car sales than in teaching. I felt like a Ginsu knife had sliced my soul. I could hardly hear what else she had to say.
“They don’t know you, and this building is full of old fuddy duddies. They probably aren’t used to having a student teacher. And here you come along, smiling and friendly, and they know student teaching is hard, but you seem so happy. You’re so exuberant. Just tone it down. Listen, I want you to get a good job! Some of these people might be interviewing you.”
After she told me this, I felt like that she had told me that my character was totally wrong, bad, awful–I needed reconstructive surgery on my personality.
I replied, “How can they say I’m insincere, when I’m just being me? I am happy and friendly. That’s just who I am.”
She looked back at me, eyes wide, and repeated,”You’re so exuberant. Just tone it down. Instead of saying, ‘Hi, how’s it going? Have a good day!’, say,’Hi.’ Leave it at that. I want you to get a good job.”
These comments were hard for me to swallow. Intellectually, I knew that what others think of me is none of my business. However, my mentor teacher’s comments seemed to tell me otherwise. That night I cried to my husband, who is much more of a logical, thinking-type than I. He comforted me diplomatically. “Honey, just remember. You’re an intern. An enthusiastic person who’s totally friendly annoys them. You’re a peon. Act like one.”
I tried acting peonic and spent the next one to two weeks obsessing about who complained about my exuberant insincerity. I was also hurt because this person/these persons didn’t tell me directly in a healthy way about how they felt. Well, some are sicker than others.
I uttered a quiet “hi” to other teachers in the hall, only when spoken to. I mumbled silently if they asked me how I was doing. After awhile I just accepted that this is the way it was. Perhaps there was a time and a place for being me, and during my internship was not one of them, especially because I did want to get a job. I ended up finishing student teaching successfully. Much of my energy was consumed suppressing my personality.
I allowed how I thought others felt about me to affect my student teaching. During those February weeks, my stomach tumbled and my hands ached with nervousness and dread before school. How was I ever going to make money as a teacher, if I could barely make it through my student teaching experience?
What can you do if you have a BAD student teaching experience?
1. Look within. Discuss it and reflect on with your friends and safe mentors. Pray. What was your part? Get really gut-wrenching honest with yourself. I finally realized that I couldn’t be enthusiastic and friendly in that building- that’s just how that place was. Some buildings are healthier emotionally than others, and the tone brings everybody’s teaching up to a higher level. Others just are “sick buildings,” and I don’t mean in terms of toxic mold.
2. Consider asking yourself if you REALLY want to teach. If you don’t, that’s okay. Even after a bad student teaching experience you feel in your heart that you still want to teach–GO FOR IT!! Regardless of state and district budget cuts, people have not stopped having babies. Regardless of what happens with technology in education or blended learning, there will always be a place for spunky, enthusiastic, creative teachers.
3. Teaching is HARD work- but it doesn’t have to be a BAD experience. I’ll admit- some schools can be harder to teach at than others–like when a principal told me I was “too creative.” For your first year, if you REALLY WANT to teach, then you could consider taking a job wherever you get an offer, especially if it’s in a district you like. Once you are in a specific district, you can always switch after the first year. HOWEVER, if you get whackadoodle vibes from the principal who’s interviewing you and an unsettling feeling about the school itself, then DO NOT take that job. In the past, I ignored those gut feelings a few times and ended up regretting it.
4. Keep looking. There is no such thing as a perfect job…yet if you’re getting really weird vibes from the one you’ve been offered, TURN IT DOWN! Consider options in the area, look into being a corporate trainer, look into companies that specifically hire recent college grads, like Amazon.com.
5. In the meantime, write about it. And while you’re looking for a job, why not write for fun and profit? Making extra money as a former student teacher is SIMPLE…BLOG about it! Share your experiences, your strength, and give hope to others- think of how many people you can help! It’s how to make money as a teacher. Be one of the elite few teachers to make money online. Position yourself strategically, regardless of your career choices, and make money blogging NOW.